On March 15, the geography and environment department at Kwantlen Polytechnic University hosted its third GEOFORUM panel event, which showcased a discussion of the extreme weather events experienced in British Columbia last year.
The panel explored some of the challenges facing communities south of the Fraser in coming years, such as future heatwaves, flooding, and sea level rise, using last year’s events as examples.
KPU’s Elder in Residence Lekeyten of the Kwantlen First Nation introduced and ended the event. Dr. Kees Lokman, associate professor and chair of landscape architecture at the University of British Columbia, and Sebastian Sajda, president of Force of Nature Alliance, were among the panellists who included local professors and city planning experts from Metro Vancouver with extensive knowledge of climate impacts in the region.
A large section of the town of Lytton burned down on the hottest day in B.C. last summer, and between June 18 and Aug. 12, the B.C. Coroners Service recorded 595 heat-related deaths. It’s also estimated about 17,775 people were displaced due to the atmospheric river flooding in November.
Sajda, who has been a local climate activist for years, suggested a plan to prepare for internal displacement due to climate events but also to deal with climate effects we’ve already experienced.
“We need a plan for community warming centres to respond to heat domes and cold snaps quickly … we need plans to be proactive,” he said in the panel.
Afterwards, Sajda told The Runner that he feels the plan would “definitely have to be done with First Nations as equal partners.”
During his presentation, Lokman acknowledged the “radical transformations” that have happened on Indigenous Peoples’ territories.
“We are now inhabiting an urbanized delta with complex jurisdictional environments, as well as fragmented habitats which are crucial for migratory birds, fish, and coastal livelihoods,” he said.
Lokman added that human and climate change issues further exacerbate systemic oppressions towards Indigenous communities and marginalized groups.
Lekeyten shared the experiences Indigenous communities had in the November flooding and said that many were left out of evacuation plans.
“When the flood hit us in November, there was no place for First Nations Indigenous people to go, there was no plan,” he said in the panel. “When farmers had to evacuate, the province made sure they had places to go. And Matsqui First Nation and Sumas First Nation, they were on their own.”
Lekeyten said the flooding wiped out the salmon spawning ground and swept up chemicals from the farmlands into the Fraser River system.
“The environment is in trouble,” he said.
Sajda pointed to South Campbell Heights as an example when the regional government narrowly approved Surrey’s plan to develop the rural land into an industrial park despite objections from the Semiahmoo First Nation last month.
“Even when this was sent back to Surrey … all they did was send a letter to the Semiahmoo First Nation to set up a meeting, [and] they didn’t even have a meeting. That’s not consultation,” he says.
Surrey declared a climate emergency in 2019, but Sajda says the city has been slow to deliver their plans to meaningfully address climate change.
“I really want to see Surrey developing a comprehensive, regional climate emergency response plan,” he says. “We’re failing on the mitigation front.”
Sajda says he hopes people come to understand the scale of the challenge.
“We’re just touching one part of it…. All of this intersects with everything we do in the city, and it’s such a complicated concept.”